By SCOTT MacKAY
Journal-Bulletin Staff Writer
August 28, 1996
Labor leader Arthur A. Coia co-hosted an elegant birthday party
for Geraldine Ferraro at the Democratic National Convention Monday
night, one month after the Republican-led Congress held hearings
into his alleged ties to organized crime.
Coia, a major Democratic Party fund-raiser
and supporter of President Clinton, has been the target of a wide-ranging
Justice Department investigation into mob control of his Laborers'
International Union of North America.
After initially calling for Coia's ouster
and a government takeover of the union, federal prosecutors agreed
last year to allow Coia to implement internal reforms, aided by
former federal investigators hired by the union and monitored
by federal officials who could oust Coia if not satisfied with
On Monday, Coia presided over a 61st-birthday
bash at the Field Museum for Ferraro, Walter Mondale's running
mate in 1984. As Coia smiled and schmoozed with guests,
Ferraro stood a few feet away, discounting last month's hearings
by the House Judiciary Committee' s subcommittee on crime. "It seems any time there is an Italian-American
in a position of prominence there are these allegations,"
Ferraro said. "I'm delighted to see Arthur. This Republican
Congress, if they had anything they could use against him, they
While Coia's party in the City of Broad Shoulders
showed that he still has broad shoulders in the Democratic Party,
one of his goals - a speaking role at the convention - never materialized.
In a handwritten note released by congressional
investigators, Democratic National Committee national chairman
Donald L. Fowler wrote Clinton adviser Harold Ickes last November
that Coia would like to speak at the convention. "He has been a very good supporter of
the Pres and the Demo Party, " Fowler wrote Ickes.
Coia is not on the schedule to speak. Democratic
organizers could not be reached to explain the exclusion.
On Monday night, no White House aides or
top-ranking congressmen were evident at Coia's party. The party
drew hundreds of delegates, union representatives and convention
hangers-on who were treated to pastries and desserts, fresh fruit,
drinks from several open bars and music by the Ken Arlen Orchestra.
The logos of the Laborers' and the International
Association of Fire Fighters, the two unions which paid for the
event, were flashed in a massive light display on one of the museum's
Taking a break from circulating among the
guests, Coia acknowledged that the union had "some pockets
of corruption" in the past, but asserted it is well on its
way to cleaning itself up under its agreement with the Clinton
administration's Justice Department.
The congressional hearings, Coia said, were
purely political, motivated by the Republican Party's fear of
a rejuvenated labor movement nationally and the electoral clout
the Laborers' wield on behalf of Democrats. "It is a Republican fabrication to undermine
the Bill Clinton effort in 1996," said a relaxed Coia as
the band played swing music in the background. "They pointed
to the Laborers' International Union and myself because we are
strong advocates for the President and the Democrats. We're the
target because we are strong, we raise a lot of money and we educate
our members and we turn them out to vote . . . Newt Gingrich understands
Coia added that it's too early to judge the
success of the Justice Department agreement. "We had pockets of corruption, we admitted
that. The government gave us the opportunity to institute the
process of reform and it is effective, "Coia said."
It is a difficult concept, but it is an effective concept. Now
we need the time to let it work. (This) is a good example of government
and the union working together, which is no different than labor
and management working together, which we do in many areas."
Several members of the Rhode Island delegation
were on hand for the party.
Sen. William V. Irons, D-East Providence,
chairman of the Senate Corporations Committee, said he attended
because he was invited and because he has forged a good working
relationship with Laborers' union leaders in Rhode Island.
The Laborers' union, Irons said, was particularly
helpful in drumming up support in the General Assembly for the
package of tax breaks that smoothed the way for the Providence
Place Mall project. "I don't know Arthur Coia, I've never
met Arthur Coia," Irons said. "I can say that the Laborers'
in Rhode Island were very helpful during the mall legislation,
we have a very good relationship with them."
Sen. Charles Fogarty, D-Glocester, said he
attended because his district includes state-run Zambarano Hospital,
which has 350 employees represented by the Laborers' union.
Myrth York, the Democratic Party's 1994 candidate
for governor, said she was there because she wanted to honor Ferraro
on her birthday. As far as the Laborers' organized crime links
and the deal with the Justice Department, York said: "There
are a lot of questions. I don' t know what the truth of any of
the allegations are." I know that we are not going to find
out the truth from this Congress."
Asked yesterday what he thought of the Judiciary
Committee hearings into the Laborers' union, White House Chief
of Staff Leon Panetta said he didn't know enough about the issues
to comment but because of the way congressional Republicans have
hammered away at the "character of the first lady and President,"
he is skeptical about GOP hearings.
The only discordant note Monday was six protesters
outside the event holding placards saying "Mobsters for Clinton."
Maureen K. Hogan, the protesters' spokeswoman,
said they were members of the Clinton Investigative Committee,
which pursues what she said were "ethical questions"
surrounding the Clinton administration.
Copyright © 1996 The Providence